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Keeping Aztec farming traditions alive in Mexico | Mexico News




Xochimilco, Mexico City – Pedro Capultitla remembers when he was a child, running through his family’s black pastures, a string in hand and a kite gliding above. Canals, canoes and native flora surrounded the ancient patch of farmland. Soft beneath his feet, the fields felt like home.

Three decades later, Capultitla stood on the canal-edge of his family’s chinampa, a man-made island formed for crop growing. Chinampas date back to pre-Hispanic times in Mexico City’s Xochimilco neighbourhood.

Xochimilco sits some 25km south of the city centre today, but it was once the agricultural hub of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan.

As butterflies flitted among rows of kale, 36-year-old Capultitla pinched off a leaf of kale and flipped it to reveal a small cluster of yellow butterfly eggs. Pointing to them, he exuded pride as he explained that they indicate the farm’s abstention from pesticide use.

Following in his family’s footsteps, Capultitla has taken on the tradition of farming atop the last remaining portion of what was once the enormous Lake of Texcoco, where the Aztecs built their capital city. 

Butterfly eggs on a kale leaf [Paul Biasco/Al Jazeera]

Like a time capsule from the Aztec period, the gardens rest in the district of Xochimilco. But the tradition is gradually eroding under the weight of the market, tourism and climate change.

The introduction of new agricultural technology, excessive groundwater extraction and abandonment of lands threaten the chinampa system, according to UNESCO.

As a boy, Capultitla never imagined he would eventually return to the fields to make a living. His brother left for the city, as have the descendants of thousands of other chinampa farmers over the last 20 years.

“My dad told me, ‘Go and try to work for companies to see how they treat you there with a schedule of when to enter and when you have to leave. Here you can be your own boss and have your own schedule,'” Capultitla said.

He has been farming on his family’s chinampas for the past 25 years but took a major step this year to expand his fields.

“Our family is very well known for the chinampas,” he said, explaining that he feels “very good” about keeping the tradition alive.

Capultitla’s grandfather owned and farmed five chinampas but, in more recent years, his father scaled back the family plots to one small island owing to his diabetes. Earlier this year, Capultitla decided to bring back to life three of those plots with the help of another farmer.

Capultitla estimates that he is just one of some 100 chinampa farmers who continue to practise traditional farming methods, as compared with 15 years ago, when there were still around 2,000 farms on the islands.

Oral tradition

Completely organic, Capultitla’s farm thrives due to the nutrient-rich soil dug up from the canal and added to each chinampa, preventing erosion and fertilising the land.

The plots can produce seven harvests a year, providing traditional pre-Hispanic produce such as beans, lettuce, cilantro, quintoniles, chard, tomatoes, amaranth, flowers and radishes.

Aztec farming traditions [Paul Biasco/Al Jazeera] [Daylife]

The chinampas once provided for the 1.5 million Aztecs in Tenochtitlan. They built their capital city on an island around the year 1300 and, at the time, the only answer to providing the enormous population with sustenance was to build man-made plots of farmland atop the lake.

The chinampas can only be reached by boat, and most of the wooden boats are motorless, powered by hand with long poles stuck into the mud-bottomed canal to propel them forward.

The art of building the land masses was never codified in text or studied in school. Rather, the knowledge has been orally passed down from generation to generation. Capultitla’s constitutes the sixth generation of his family to continue the practice.

“The technique is passed from generation to generation. There is not a book that contains this information,” said Laura Villagrán Vázquez, a biologist who studies and specialises in the chinampas. “It is very important to maintain this knowledge.”

The chinampas can only be reached by boat, and most of the wooden boats are motorless [Paul Biasco/Al Jazeera]

Building chinampas starts with filling an area with mud from the bottom of the lake and organic matter until the new farmland rises above water level.

Then, the chinaperos plant huejotes or Bondpland willows along the edges of the land to create a barrier. Known for holding water and resisting rot, the trees’ roots burrow deep into the earth and anchor the chinampa to land. 

Each time Capultitla prepares to plant new seeds, he removes mud from the bottom of the channel and creates a bed of mud next to the canal. He then cuts that mud into small squares.

The following day, he makes holes in each square with his fingers and places a seed in each hole to germinate for three to four days. After that, he prepares the land further inland and transplants the crops.

In a single chinampa, he can fit between 3,000 and 10,000 plants, depending on the season and size of the plants.

Battling the stigma

Capultitla’s favourite parts of the process are harvesting and eating his own produce. “I like to compare it with the Central de Abasto,” he said, referring to the city’s enormous central market. “The flavour [of the produce] from other places is sour, and here the flavour of the products is sweet.”

In past decades, city-dwellers had thought chinampas produce was dirty and tainted by bacteria, largely owing to its origins in the muddied waters, said Villagran Vazquez, who helps farmers prepare their products for commercial use.

But Villagran Vazquez had the waters tested in a lab and found that the bacteria levels in the canal paled in comparison to drinking water in cities. “I had to explain to people that the water is not contaminated,” she said.

In recent years, new initiatives began, aiming at connecting the farmers to restaurants and consumers. One such project, Yolcan, was founded in 2011 and has since supplied produce to some of the most renowned restaurants in Mexico City, such as Pujol, Maximo Bistrot and Quintonil.

Capultitla estimates that he is just one of some 100 chinampa farmers who continue to practise the traditional farming methods [Paul Biasco/Al Jazeera]

Xochimilco accounts for nine percent of Mexico City and contains 18km of canals. Only around three percent of the remaining chinampas are used for traditional farming, while others are now used for cattle grazing and even used by football teams that travel to and from practice by boat.

The area, microscopic on a global scale, contains two percent of the world biodiversity and 11 percent of the national biodiversity, according to Villagran Vazquez.

Although this sprawling pre-Hispanic site has gained international notoriety by being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, tourists and locals alike are more likely to know the district for its popular parties in colourful boats that cruise along the canals with mariachi bands on board.

Ninelth Sandoval runs the Mexico Underground tour company, which aims to highlight traditional Mexican cultural experiences for tourists. Along with her partner, she has shifted the focus of their tours to chinampas instead of parties.

“We are now again starting to feel proud as Mexicans,” Sandoval said. “People used to feel ashamed of our roots. It is very important to remember the ways of our ancestors.”

For his part, Capultitla hopes to pass on to his 12-year-old son a sense of pride in preserving their 1,000-year-old traditions. The boy has already shown interest in farming with his father and studies agriculture in school.

“I will let him make his decision like my father did for me,” Capultitla concluded. 

Building chinampas starts with filling an area with mud from the bottom of the lake and organic matter until the new farmland rises above water level [Paul Biasco/Al Jazeera]


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Tiger-Cats claim victory against the Argos to maintain home record on Labour Day




The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were at their devastating best against the Toronto Argonauts when the two locked horns on Labour Day at the Tim Hortons Field.

Just like with previous Labour Day fixtures, the Ticats produced a stellar performance with Dane Evans throwing two touchdown passes while Frankie Williams scored on a 67-yard punt return as they claimed a 32-19 victory on Monday. With this vital win, the Ticats extended their Labour Day home record to 7-0.

For players and fans of the Tiger-Cats, games on Labour Day are a lot more special and losing is something the Ticats aren’t used to.

“We know the fans are going to be behind us, we know Toronto is going to be chippy, we know it’s going to be sunny; we know it’s going to be windy. Everything that happened (Monday) we prepared for. There is something extremely special about Tim Hortons Field on Labour Day . . . you can feel it in the air, I can’t put it into words,” said Evans.

After the COVID-19 induced hiatus, the CFL is back in full action and fans can now bet on their favourite teams and just like with online slots Canada, real money can be won. Hamilton (2-2) recorded its second straight win to move into a tie atop the CFL East Division standings with Montreal Alouettes (2-2). Also, the Ticats lead the overall Labour Day series with Toronto 36-13-1.

In the sun-drenched gathering of 15,000—the maximum allowed under Ontario government COVID-19 protocols—the fans loved every minute of this feisty game. After all, this was the Ticats first home game in 659 days, since their 36-16 East Division final win over Edmonton in November 2019.

The contest between the Ticats and Argos was certainly not bereft of emotions, typical of a Labour Day fixture, as it ended with an on-field melee. But the Argos often found themselves on the wrong end of the decisions with several penalty calls and most of the game’s explosive plays.

Hamilton quarterback Evans completed 21-of-29 passing for 248 yards and the two touchdowns while Toronto’s make-shift quarterback Arbuckle completed 18-of-32 attempts for 207 yards. Arbuckle also made a touchdown and two interceptions before eventually being substituted by McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

Bethel-Thompson made an eight-yard TD pass to wide receiver Eric Rogers late in the final quarter of the game.

“They got after us a bit . . . we didn’t block, or pass protect well,” said Ryan Dinwiddie, rookie head coach of the Argos in a post-match interview. “They just kicked our butts; we’ve got to come back and be a better team next week.”

The Labour Day contest was the first of four fixtures this year between Toronto and Hamilton. The two teams would face off again on Friday at BMO Field. Afterwards, the Tim Hortons Field will play host to the Argonauts again on Oct. 11 with the regular-season finale scheduled for Nov. 12 in Toronto.

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Roughriders looking to bounce back after Labor Day defeat




In what an unusual feeling for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, they would now need to dust themselves up after a 23-8 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in what was a Labor Day Classic showdown in front of a full capacity crowd at Mosaic stadium.

Craig Dickenson, head coach of the Riders, witnessed his team with an unbeaten record get utterly dominated by a more superior team from Winnipeg. Now, he has got a lot of work on his hands getting his team back to winning ways as they visit the Banjo Bowl next.

“We’re going to see what we’re made of now…the jury’s out,” said Dickenson.

Dan Clark, who played centre for the Riders expressed his disappointment in losing what was “the biggest game of the year”.

 “If you lose every other game, you don’t want to lose that one. We’ve just got to take the next step,” said Clark in a report. “There are 12 steps to the Grey Cup left and it’s just about taking that next step and focusing on what Saturday will bring.”

With their first defeat to Winnipeg, the Riders (3-1) now rank second place in the CFL’s West Division, trailing the Bombers by one victory (4-1). However, the Riders will have the chance to even the season series during their trip to Winnipeg this Saturday. With the CFL heating up, fans can now enjoy online sports betting Canada as they look forward to their team’s victory.

The Rider’s offensive line will once again have a busy time dealing with the Blue Bombers’ defence.

Quarterback Cody Fajardo, who played one of the best games of his career two weeks earlier, had quite a stinker against the Bombers in the Labour Day Classic—which is the most anticipated game for Rider fans.

Fajardo had a 59 per cent completion percentage which wasn’t quite indicative of what the actual figure was considering he was at 50 per cent before going on a late drive in the final quarter with the Bombers already becoming laid back just to protect the win.

Fajardo also registered a personal worst when he threw three interceptions, but in all fairness, he was always swarmed by the Bomber’s defence.

While Fajardo has claimed responsibility for the loss and letting his teammates down, many would be curious to see how the team fares in their next game and with less than a week of preparation.

Dickenson is confident that his team would improve during their rematch in the 17th edition of the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg. The only challenge now would be the loss of home advantage and dealing with the noisy home crowd, he added.

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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic




TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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